"We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of walking on the Moon and we are excited about landing on the Moon for the first time."

These sentences are not out of chronological order nor are they false or mistaken. They are both true because 1/n
the first and second ‘we’ aren't synonymous. They represent two different identities, and of the same individual if she is Indian: we humans are celebrating the 50th anniversary of walking on the Moon and we Indians are excited about landing on the Moon for the first time 2/n
Neil Armstrong, the first human on the Moon, was moved by the sight of Earth beyond the satellite’s horizon, a blue-green orb cradled by long stretches of darkness on every side and which he could blot out by closing one eye and holding his thumb up. 3/n
He saw no borders, no contested lines on land or water, but all of humanity occupying the surface of a tiny marble, with only each other for company in a very, very empty universe. Some have celebrated this as the unexpected legacy of Apollo 11 thewire.in/space/apollo-1… 4/n
the birth of an image that inspires us to stay united. But this is much easier said than done, and not always for bad reasons. Chandrayaan 2 is a case in point. Its very existence alerts us to our Indianness as separate from, rather a subset of, humanity. 5/n
It reminds us gently that arbitrary lines do crisscross the face of Earth and that we Indians are decidedly on one side of some of those lines, as are the Americans, the Chinese, the French and the Russians. We may all seem to be in this together when seen from the Moon 6/n
but we are not when seen from Earth, and this is perhaps the only vantage point that matters. Armstrong’s comments were well ahead of his time, or even ours, because they dream of a world where one human going to the Moon is the same as all humans going to the Moon. 7/n
It is a utopian reimagination of how spaceflight or even all of science works. It skips over some of the biggest problems assailing humanity today, instead suggesting the weight of loneliness our cosmos has imposed on Earth will suffice to bend the arc of justice down. 8/n
This will never happen. It's impossible to believe that it could if only because the arc of justice doesn't budge until it is acted upon by the very people it affects. It's impossible to believe humanity has been on the Moon when the only way a non-American person can 9/n
get up there is by slogging it out through their own national space programmes. This is no surprise when it's impossible to overlook the inequities that mar Earth – no less invisible from the ground than they would be through the eyes of a white American man on the Moon. 10/n
Consider a scientist from the developing world. Let’s say he's male, English-speaking middle-class Brahmin so we can set aside the discrimination the scientific community’s non-male, non-Hindu/non-upper-caste, non-heterosexual, Indian-language-speaking members face 11/n
for the sake of our discussion; of course, the picture has already been oversimplified. He has access to some instruments, a few good labs, not many good mentors, irregular funding, not enough travel grants, subpar employment prospects, insufficient access to journals 12/n
lives in a polluted city w/ uneven public transport, rising costs, less water to spare and rising medical bills. If at this juncture we reinstate the less privileged Indian in this matrix, it becomes a near-chaotic picture of personal, social, economic and political problems 13/n
Even then, it's still only the substrate upon which international inequities, such as access to samples from other parts of the world, information published in journals that libraries can’t afford or exclusion from editorial boards of scientific journals – will come to bear. 14/n
There’s climate change and its difficult historical legacy. So there seems to be a knot of awkwardness in our national imagination, at least in principle – a confrontation between reflex to celebrate Apollo 11 & embrace the opportunity to transcend the issues that divide us 15/n
and in the same moment acknowledge India’s impending first attempt to soft-land a suite of mostly passive instruments on the Moon. Art, music, cinema and fantasy could help unknot it. 16/n
Remember that the romance of having a man on the Moon itself was the product of a perceived politico-ideological imbalance. And it was perceived so strongly that it disregarded public opinion even as it invented self-justifications through iffy economics and nostalgia 17/n
So then, who are we? Are we human or are we something else? If you were swayed by the messages of humanitarianism on July 16 and July 20, you were also reconceived by yourself as much as everyone else as an individual of the Homo sapiens of Earth. If you were swayed by 18/n
the messages of nationalism on July 15 and perhaps will be on July 22, there will be no escaping the reminders of your Indianness. It’s not immediately clear how one could embrace both without situating them in a hierarchy of progression: 19/n
Our cultural-sexual-political-social-economic identity first, biological next, and envision the endeavours of humankind as a journey from one stage to the next, when one human walking on, say, Ganymede, will truly stand for all humans walking on Ganymede. 20/n
But until then, for good or for bad, but mostly for good, we walk separate paths, acknowledge the lines between us and work to make them as invisible on the ground as they are from the Moon. 21/21
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